Consumers, How Much Do They Really Digest ?

“We eat to live, They live to eat” Over The Hedge

Consumers of food are made up of literally the entire human nation, and the needs, wants, desires and expectations of food have changed as the years have rolled by forcing food manufacturers to become more creative and innovative in their food products that they place on the shelves. It has become apparent that food cannot be regarded as simply a “basic need” needed to maintain the mental and physical well-being of individuals but have become much more. Food is too broad a term to be restricted to be called a “basic need“, some foods are seen as luxuries, some foods have become a source of identity for some people and some foods occupy a small niche in the market to cater for a small group or a minority of people. As the needs and wants of people have evolved, so too did food evolve in order to satisfy the demands of the people.

Past Vs The Present  

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In the early stone ages, diets of our “flint stone” ancestors consisted of largely meat and plants. Foods were cooked as minimum as possible and sometimes, foods weren’t cooked at all, this was strictly limited to some plants, berries and roots. Scientists and historians  theorized that food was more likely to be cooked in order to make tougher foods more “tender” and “chewable” rather than food being cooked to ensure that it was safe to eat. Diets from the early ages may have provided more nutrients for the body, as less nutrients were lost due to minimal processing. The main purpose of food during these times was simply sustenance.

As the years rolled by, people started to see food as more than just a source of energy and nutrients, but started to desire a diversity of foods and beverages. This placed a great deal of pressure on food manufacturers to satisfy both the needs and the emerging demands of consumers. This would be the beginning of a shift to a market driven economy, where companies that realized that meeting the demands of consumers was more important than aimlessly attempting various strategies were extremely successful and experienced a surge of growth and increase in profits.

Fast forward to our current point in time, and it is clearly apparent that what appeals to consumers is not limited to the direct properties of the physical product itself, and a number of other factors play a role in the success of a food product. Consumers are much more aware of their surroundings and  the current happenings of the world, and this is possible as we live in the information and technology society. Information is easily and rapidly accessible, stored and easier to come by with relative ease. So it is of no surprise or consequence, that consumers are highly informed not just about food, but also about the quality and safety standards, the market, the nutritive aspects and other factors.

What Do Consumers Look 4 ?

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So, as you now know, there are a number of both product related and product indirect related factors that affect the purchasing choice of consumers, so let’s just take a quick insight into what some of these factors are.

Factors Directly Related To The Product That Affect Consumer Choice And Purchase

  • Nutritional Value And Health Claims

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So, this one is kinda obvious I guess, I mean it’s the basic reason as to why we consume food. But consumers aren’t satisfied with the basic nutritional levels that food contains. They want to be able to consume food and obtain the satisfactory quantity of nutrients that is possible from foods, in a form that is usable by the body, also known as a “bioavailable” form. This means that companies have to develop foods accordingly and review formulations as well as processing steps to ensure that these demands are met.

But as time has gone by, consumers have desired more than just the basic nutrition from foods. They wanted additional benefits, like foods that promoted weight loss or maintained weight, foods that reduced the risk of certain diseases or controlled the progress of such diseases as well as other non-nutritive benefits. This led to the development of “functional foods” as well as the development of “Nutraceuticals“, which were two very similar categories of food that offered benefits that were not limited to nutrition only, but offered other health benefits such as reduction or prevention of diseases.

Both functional food and nutraceuticals are terms used interchangeably. There are 3 sub-categories of nutraceuticals:

Nutraceutical Category Examples
Herbal/Botanical Concentrates/extracts
Nutrient Vitamins/minerals
Dietary Supplement Weight loss supplements

 

Nutraceuticals are either traditional (not altered) or non-traditional (altered). Labeling of nutraceuticals on foods is important as they should not list false claims that will mislead the consumer that they will cure diseases or heal ailments. Although there have been safety issues and even bans on some nutraceutical based products, e.g ephridine, consumers still purchase these products, as they desire the promised health benefits and effects.

Foods that are rich in anti-oxidants is also quite popular due to their free radical scavenging and anti-oxidant properties. These foods are believed to and have a substantial amount of evidence to reduce the effects or reduce the effects of cancer. A diet inclusively rich in anti-oxidants can reduce the chances of cancer, as stated on the site “ted“. Foods that are rich in anti-inflammatory properties are also popular to reduce inflammation.

Fortified and enriched foods, have added ingredients to provide required nutrients that people are deficient in or to restore or to add an increased amount of these nutrients that may be lost during processing or storage. There are different types of fortification that are not only practiced by food manufacturers, but market driven fortification is practiced by large scale companies usually to address the needs of the target population with the targeted nutrients. Example, vitamin A and iron fortified cereals developed for children and pregnant women.

Other foods such as fat reduced, low fat or low calorie foods or foods low or free of sugar are becoming increasingly popular both by needs and desires. The need comes from the increasing rate of obesity. In the world over 600 million adults were obese, overall, about 13% of the world’s adult population (11% of men and 15% of women) were obese in 2014. In 2014, 39% of adults aged 18 years and over (38% of men and 40% of women) were overweight. The worldwide prevalence of obesity more than doubled between 1980 and 2014. The desires of eating these kind of foods is related strongly to outward beauty and a desire to live longer.

Foods that are healthy yet are able to maintain desirable sensory characteristics are very successful in this category. Consumers are more willing and more likely to pay higher prices for healthier foods with several benefits.

 

  • Quality And Safety

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Quality and safety standards are something that is looks for in not just food, but in a variety of items purchased such as cars, equipment, houses etc. So it’s no surprise that food is no exception. What is surprising though, is the current understanding and awareness of food safety and quality standards that consumers possess, which is greater than average. Consumers will pay more for a product of satisfactory quality. This is important, as quality can be the determining factor that a consumer will use in order to choose between two similar products.

With regards to safety, this is something that is essential to food companies and is mandatory. However, consumers are demanding higher levels of safety and that safety checks are applied to processing steps at all levels. Food safety means that food should either not have certain elements present or should have acceptable limits of certain elements that are hazardous to the health of consumers and have the potential to harm to consumer, bring injury or cause illness, or in the most severe of cases, cause death. Safety includes listing of allergens and trace allergens as a result of being present in composition or cross contamination. Raw materials and finished products must undergo several safety and quality checks during storage and transportation. Instructions on the labeling and packaging should also be used as lines of communication  on how to properly process or store food products.

HACCP which stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point , is a mandatory for food companies especially if they want to ensure that their quality and safety standards are up to scratch. HACCP focuses on identifying potential issues, threats and risks that are likely to occur at  certain points during the food production and process (critical points) and placing controls in place in order to prevent this and minimize the effects such risks. HACCP is demanded by not only consumers but also by auditing firms and by several other bodies food related and non-related.

Consumers have the expectation that food purchased is safe and are willing to purchase foods of higher quality. Quality is sometimes a factor that food companies base or focus their marketing strategy on. Failure to comply with quality and safety food standards will lead to poor quality products likely to possess threats to consumers. This may result in a “product recall“, and is a heavy blow to a company’s reputation. This is to be avoided “at all costs” quite literally as it leads to damaged reputation, sales decrease, profit decrease and in severe cases, the end of a food company.

 

  • Organic And GM Foods

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Organic farming uses various methods to enhance or maintain soil fertility, such as crop rotation, tillage and cultivation practices, cover crops, and natural products (such as natural fertilizers, pesticides, and so on). The use of synthetic materials is not allowed in organic farming unless the materials are on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. A synthetic material can be defined as a substance that is formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from a naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral source. Organic farmers use animal and crop wastes, botanical, biological, or non-synthetic pest controls, and allowed synthetic materials that can be broken down quickly by oxygen and sunlight. Organic farmers also use specific methods to minimize air, soil, and water pollution (Taken from the Institute of Food Technologists).

Organic foods simply mean foods that are not produced naturally without the addition of synthetic substances to enhance properties of the crop or animal based products. There are a lot of people who are not comfortable with the consumption of food products that are not organic, as they are unsure or uncertain of what exactly goes in as well as what the effects are of these products, both the immediate and the long term effects, e.g. development of cancer. There are various studies, experiments and research to mildly support these claims, however these results are not conclusive or substantial. On the other hand, there is lack of evidence to prove that foods, not organic in nature that are modified in some way, is completely safe.

This is a similar case and reasoning on the part of the consumers with regards to ”Genetically Modified” foods. Genetic modification occurs when the genetic structure is altered via the technique of genetic engineering. Genes may be added, deleted or replaced. “Golden rice” is an example that has been developed  via genetic modification is aimed at populations where deficiencies (shortages of nutrients) exist and rice is a staple part of the diet. However, due to safety issues, the release of such a product into the world is bleak. Development of food products involving genetic modification requires extensive testing for safety, pathogens, allergens and side effects as this is demanded by FAO, WHO and consumers.

Again, just like in the case of foods with regards to the potential effects and lack of knowledge of genetic modification, consumers are weary of such products. A few years ago, organic foods was a major factor in the purchase of such foods, but currently the hype about it seems to have died down a little.

 

Factors Indirectly Related To The Product That Affect Consumer Choice And Purchase

  • Packaging, Brands, Media, Appearance And So On

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The packaging and position of a product makes a difference as to the choice of purchasing a food product. The packaging of a product plays a great deal on first time purchases of products that the consumer has not sampled before. It is the responsibility of the packaging to attract the attention of the consumer, to properly communicate the required information, nutrition and benefits (if any) that the product has. Thus the packaging of a food product plays a more important role in the initial sale of a product for the first time, rather than the product itself. The packaging must also of course fulfill it’s primary role of retaining the desirable properties of food product under the appropriate specified storage conditions for the specified duration of time.

The physical position of a product regarding its position on shelves also influences a consumers decision to purchase a product. The amount of eye contact that a product as well as if the product is in a position where it is visible to consumers is important. The distance from the product and the target consumers is important. The position of a product in the market itself is a factor that determines the likelihood of the purchase of a food product. For example, a food product that is leading in it’s respective market category is most likely to be purchased.

Brands of food products determine whether it will be purchased. Brands are the unique identities of products that differentiate and distinguish the products of one company to similar products of another company. The older generations of people are more brand loyal compared to the younger generations of people. The brands of a product may be a source of identity for both the product and the consumer themselves, as people like to brand themselves and belong to groups to create a feeling of belonging. Brands may be associated with familiarity or quality and this increases the chance of food products being purchased. Brand building is incorporated into marketing and advertising strategies in order to increase the strength and popularity of brands. A good brand marketing strategy leads to sales and profit increases. Brands can also be related to quality and characteristic traits of products.

The media plays a role in the portrayal, perception and reception of products, (Yeah, that rhymed, I know). They also play a role in how products are sole. Advertisements, social media feeds and promotions all increase the awareness of products, as well as communicate the uniqueness of products. How well they are able to do this influences purchase of products. Reviews and criticism by food experts, analysts and judges will affect the perception of food products. Positive feedback can be communicated to consumers to encourage them to buy food products.

 

  • Price and Convenience

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With price, in 7 out of 10 cases, a lower price will encourage the sales of food products. The price of food products factors in total costs made up of direct costs, indirect and overhead expenses. However, the costs of certain items must be a little higher than the rest to communicate to consumers that the product is of superior quality to other offerings in the market, or that the product is a premium offering. This is usually catering to a niche (small %) of the market for the wealthier consumers who wanted be associated with luxury and status (appearance purposes). Lower and middle income groups are more likely to purchase products that are of average or below average market value, whilst consumers of higher income groups  purchase products of higher pricing.

Convenience can be related to the preparation and storage of the food products. Generally the more easier to prepare and store food while obtaining the expected properties encourages purchase of food products. This is perhaps due to the fast moving nature of the current world we live in, where time isn’t just money, it’s everything.   Although I believe that time is invaluable compared to money, as you earn money again if its lost, but not time (but that’s a debate for another time). Convenience regarding the opening or salability of the packing may also play an issue. E.g. Peel open jam is more popular than jams that require can opener.

 

The Response Of Companies

So, what are companies doing to respond to such factors ? Well, below are just brief glances as to what food companies do to win the stomachs of consumers.

  • Product Development

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Food companies have RnD (Research and Development) departments that are invested in the development of new food products and improving the properties of existing products and processes while reducing the manufacturing costs. A successful RnD department of a company is able to enable effective co-operation and communication between the Product Development team, Manufacturing/Engineering teams and Marketing/Sales teams. The product development process usually entails a Screening stage involving idea generation and concept evaluation. This is followed by the Feasibility stage, Commitment Stage, Launch stage and Monitoring/maintenance stage. This may vary with modifications for different food companies.

Product development requires basic research, which is the study and understanding of food ingredients (structures and interactions) and different processing operations and how they determine and influence the overall quality and properties of the final product. E.g. The organoleptic properties and shelf life. Product development is the application of such knowledge and understanding of food ingredients and processing operations to develop new products or improve on existing products.

Product development will first begin on a lab scale, then on a pilot plant scale and finally on an industrial manufacturing scale. After several trials and experiments, the formulation compositions and quantities are locked, coded and up scaled to pilot plant quantities. This testing is essential as results and findings may vary and differ from lab scale trials due to the tremendous increase in quantities.  It is essential that any differences must be identified, and solutions must be found before manufacture can occur on a large scale. Pilot plant trials are also required to produce sufficient quantities of food products for market testing as well as ensure that equipment are suitable for production of food product. Finally after successful pilot plant trials, food products are manufactured on an industrial scale at the manufacturing plant.

By following this process, there is reduction in the time, materials, money and resources that is used in the development process.

 

  • Quality Control

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Of course the increased quality is the goal of a lot of companies as they are constantly searching for ways to maintain quality of satisfactory level. Quality extends to the packaging as well and not just the product. Since consumers are more aware of quality standards, this would mean increased quality standards of companies, e.g. More detailed allergen inspections.

Employments of HACCP, ISO standards and following the CODEX standards, guidelines and practices are useful in maintaining quality of food products, and they are also accepted by both consumers and food regulatory and safety bodies alike. Use of reliable suppliers, attached COA (Certificate Of Analysis) attached to raw materials upon arrival, increased quality checks and inspections of raw materials so less intensive quality checks during processing. Equipment needs to be standardized and its limits need to be recognized. The nature of raw materials and final products need to be considered in relation to the working environment.

 

  • Company Interaction With Consumers

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If you’ve studied labels of food products, you would notice that there is always a Consumer Careline Address And Details that encourages feedback from consumers such as complaints and constructive criticism as well as positive feedback and preferences of products. This is also done via social media platforms. This opens a line of communication between the consumer and food company allowing the consumer feel important, valued and to know that their opinion is heard and matters. It allows food companies to pick up potential risks or flaws that exist in their food products or process, as well as allow for consumer trends and preference analysis and product performance analysis.

Conclusion        

I think that it’s pretty much apparent that there are several more factors that contribute to the purchase of food products and even more that can be said about what I’ve briefly spoken about. For now though, I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a bite out of this blog and whatever you’ve digested will leave you full with satiety. Ciau.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. So many stats. Well written!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aavi Uchiha says:

      Thank you 🙊🙏

      Like

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